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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, March 21, 2023

 
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Camila Giorgi edged Kaia Kanepi in a wild three tiebreak, three hour, 27-minute thriller in Miami. Our reaction to Giorgi's win and we highlight practice court stars.

Photo credit: Photo by Marcos Dominguez/Jam Media/Getty Images

MIAMI—Veteran giant killers took fans on a massive thrill ride today.

In the end, Camila Giorgi took a trip to the lost and found to battle into the Miami Open second round.

Giorgi squandered a 5-0 third-set lead, saw her serve go MIA for a stretch and shook off the sight of Kaia Kanepi saving three match points to pull out a 7-6(4), 6-7(4), 7-6(4) triumph on Butch Buchholz Stadium Court.

The pair combined for 30 aces in a sticky three hour 27-minute match. Giorgi overcame 14 double faults, including six down the stretch of the final set.

Credit the 37-year-old Kanepi, who looked like she lost her legs on serve early in the final set, for drawing her second wind and nearly pulling off a remarkable comeback. Kanepi saved three match points in all: first on Giorgi's serve, the second match point save on a bold second serve to set up a forehand winner at 4-5 and the third match point at 3-6 in the tiebreaker with a 99 mph ace out wide.

This could have been an absolutely brutal loss for Giorgi, but she stayed calm and despite the serving snafu and some nervy shanks down the stretch she kept going after it. Giorgi ripped a forehand to close and while many players may have unleashed a primal scream, hurled a huge fist or dropped to their knees in joy, Giorgi showed little emotion apart from a wave to supportive fans and a small smile to her father, Sergio Giorgi, sitting courtside as she departed.

Maybe that's because Giorgi is typically a stoic competitor or perhaps it's because she knows she'll have a quick turnaround before facing former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in round two and did not want to waste energy on excessive celebration.

To give you an idea of Kanepi's class, as she was walking off the court a man holding a large souvenir tennis-ball on the opposite side of the court yelled over to her to request an autograph. Kanepi, ushered by security, pointed to the exit on the opposite side she was using, told him to meet her outside and did sign after a very tough loss. A very nice gesture from a veteran player.

A cool aspect about Butch Buchholz Stadium court: scoreboards at each end share vital match info: the speed gun, match time, round of play and of course the score are all displayed.

In a match like this with two big hitters, it's helpful to see the serving speeds and even better that they keep the serve speed displayed on the scoreboard until the next serve unlike some other tournaments where the speed disappears after the serve is struck.

Here are some of the sights that have struck us watching practice sessions in Miami the last couple of days.

Work Horses

Watching world-class players trade strokes on the practice court is like seeing new clothes in a fitting room mirror—everything pops.

US Open and Australian Open semifinalist Karen Khachanov and Diego Schwartzman were two of the hardest-working players we saw during the first two days of practice.

Schwartzman, who has suffered six opening-round exits in eight tournaments this season, hit with Dan Evans on Monday and Alex de Minaur today. Despite the sluggish start to his season, Schwartzman looked eager and enthusiastic grinding through rallies. Schwartzman is a good practice partner because he rarely misses, but also because he can stand up to the heat. I remember watching him hit years ago with compatriot Juan Martin del Potro in Indian Wells. Delpo was bombing inside-out forehands and Schwartzman was smoothly countering.

The 16th-ranked Khachanov had a physical hit with Taylor Fritz on Monday with both guys cracking their groundstrokes with vigor. A couple of times, Fritz bent over at the waist as if trying to gulp in deep breaths of air. During crosscourt forehand drills you can really see the sidespin Khachanov generates when he wants to hook the ball near the sideline and Fritz's ability to shorten up his backswing and take some of those blasts on the rise a couple feet behind the baseline was impressive.

Gold Standard

Olympic gold medal champion Belinda Bencic and veteran coach Dmitry Tursunov were all business during their Tuesday morning hit.

A shirtless Tursunov, who still looks exceedingly fit, put tennis ball cans about three feet in front of each baseline with the goal to keep the ball behind the can but in front of the baseline.




Bencic, who won both the Adelaide and Abu Dhabi titles earlier this year, was soaked in sweat and locked in on the ball barely uttering a word.

The ninth-ranked Swiss, who lost to sometime doubles partner Jil Teichmann in her Indian Wells opener, owns one of the most damaging two-handers in the sport. Over the last half-hour of practice coach and player almost exclusively worked on Bencic's backhand, which is her best weapon, with Tursunov sometimes throwing all slice, both backhand and forehand slice, at her down the middle or on an angle to force her to get low, use her legs and create her own pace.

Wall Bangers

Watching explosive Australian Open quarterfinalist Ben Shelton practice serves with serve-and-volleyer Maxime Cressy today sounded like wrecking balls assaulting the back wall.

Both men informed each other their serve direction before striking—wide or T thank God no body serves—but even with advance notice still so tough to actually make connect with the ball.

Shelton, who along with world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, signed a shoe and apparel deal with Swiss brand On, which is co-owned by Roger Federer, was wearing a white sleeveless On T and white On kicks with blue trim though no "RF" branding on the shoes.

The 20-year-old NCAA champion from Florida, looked relaxed, smiled a lot and was pretty chatty with his team during practice.

Raducanu Prepares for Andreescu Clash

One of the biggest blockbusters of round one pits 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu against 2021 US Open title winner Emma Raducanu.

We watched Raducanu's practice on Monday afternoon and one drill recalled one of former No. 1 Kim Clijsters' preferred practice drills. Raducanu's coach was feeding her deep drives right down the middle while she straddled the baseline like a hockey goalie covering the net and hit back just about everything he threw at her.

Hall of Famer Clijsters used the drill to simulate the first shot she'd face after a second serve. Raducanu, like Bencic, was precise with both her footwork and bending to the height of the ball and using her leg drive to help respond rather than just reaching with her hand.




The 72nd-ranked Briton, who reached the round of 16 in Indian Wells bowing to No. 1 Iga Swiatek last week, also spent a lot of time on two and three-ball backhand drills practicing sharp-angled crosscourt backhands then stepping in to hammer her backhand down the line. We'll see if she can employ that down the line backhand vs. Andreescu tomorrow.

The winner of Andreescu-Raducanu will face seventh-seeded Maria Sakkari in round two.

Popular Practice Player

Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka drew a swarm of fans standing alongside the fence watching her practice.

Sabalenka was belting the ball with vigor and spent some time hitting kick serves exclusively. We didn't see her net one kick serve either though she exhaled audibly and sighed after missing a couple wide, Sabalenka was in good spirits.

Voice of Tennis

Players aren't the only tennis stars who put in the practice time.

Sometimes the voice you hear in your head on court isn't your own.

Sitting in the media room tonight overlooking Hard Rock Stadium Court we heard the unmistakable tone of a familiar voice.

"Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome from France, Adrian Mannarinooooo!" tennis MC Andrew Krasny repeatedly announced over the booming Hard Rock Stadium sound system to a completely empty stadium.

After the day's playing schedule was complete, Krasny and crew were out on stadium court testing the sound and sounding ready for action.

 

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